Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Garden Visit: Margaret Roach’s Garden

As I mentioned in my last post, this past September 20th was my best birthday ever. Why? Because I got to see the private garden of one of my garden idols, Margaret Roach, as well as the garden of the amazing public garden designer, Lynden Miller. The icing on the cake (pun intended) was a visit to the New York Botanical Gardens the next day. A birthday weekend chock-full of gorgeous gardens, what could be better?!

I found my way to Margaret Roach via the Garden Conservancy. I was looking through their thick paperback of private gardens that were open to the public that year (which was last year) through their Open Days Program, and came across a full-page in the New York section about Margaret’s garden and her website www.awaytogarden.com. As soon as I checked out the site I was hooked. I signed up for the email newsletters immediately and became a regular listener of her podcasts. She has really interesting guests on her podcasts. Some favorites of mine this year so far: Arthur Evans on Beetles, Doug Tallamy on The Living Landscape, and Kelly Gill of Xerces Society on Pollinator Gardens. I learn something new and fascinating every time I listen. I must confess, I wish I was Margaret Roach, or maybe a combo of her, as well as artist and printmaker Angie Lewin, and photographer Robert Llewellyn. Wow, what a talented person I would be!

Margaret opens her garden to the public via the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program a few times a year every year. It just so happened that the only date that I didn’t already have plans this year was on Sept 20th, my birthday. I decided we could make it a garden-related weekend trip, with a few brewpubs thrown in to keep Brian happy. (Poor Brian, I think I wore him out dragging him to gardens all weekend! At least he earned that beer he drank at the brewpubs.)

Margaret Roach’s website is about “horticultural how-to and woo-woo.” She believes gardening isn’t just about being knowledgeable about gardening, it’s about being one with your garden and having a spiritual connection to it. This is something I felt the first time I stuck a trowel in the dirt. As Margaret says in her book, And I Shall Have Some Peace There, gardening is a “moving meditation.”

Margaret’s garden is also a “moving meditation.” The garden pulls you in and leads you on a journey as you go through it from one area to the next. There are sections to her garden, yet there is a unity to it and it all flows together in the most natural way. It has a flow and movement that I wish my garden had.

The house and garden are situated on these gracefully rolling hills, which just further add to the movement and flow of the place (but must make for some challenging gardening). The house is grayish-green with reddish/orangish trim, which seems to relate perfectly with the surrounding colors. The house itself becomes part of the landscape.

When Margaret very graciously greeted her guests on the 20th, she described her garden at this time of the year as a “giant botanical birdfeeder.” It is indeed a garden that keeps the creatures of the garden in mind. There are plenty of bird houses scattered about, as well as lots of berry-laden shrubs and numerous plants that birds would find attractive, as well as bees and butterflies. We spotted a pair of hummingbirds chasing each other in the front yard.

Broken Arrow Nursery was selling plants in the front of the driveway by the shed, and Margaret had some used books for sale.

She has several potted Japanese Maples here and there throughout the area around the house. Gives me ideas. I would be interested in knowing what varieties she thinks work well in pots like this.

This garden “room” is on the other side of the large shed or garage. There are pairs of wooden chairs here and there in her garden that are an adaptation of the Wave Hill chair (Wave Hill is a famous public garden in New York). They look like something Frank Lloyd Wright would appreciate and are exceedingly comfortable, much to my surprise.

The anemone September Charm was definitely showing it’s charming side on the 20th.

In the next garden area you see a bird bath converted into a planter. The stone path here is what I have been thinking of doing in the area around my greenhouse, with the hopes that moss would grow in between the cracks.

I was looking forward to seeing the patio outside the door after seeing photos on www.awaytogarden.com. I love the pots of water with either fairy moss or duckweed. So simple and serene. Some lovely begonias here.

As you walk behind the house you get a glimpse of the hill in the distance.

I immediately recognized the pond with the Buddha head as being the view that Margaret Roach talks about in her book. It’s the view she has from her writing desk. I was looking for frogs around the pond, but didn’t see any. I did spot a dragonfly, though.

The various little buildings on the property tie in with the house’s color scheme and add structure and interest.

I love the apple tree that is growing espalier-like up against the back of the house.

This garden has inspired me to put Nicotianas on my plant wish-list for next year.

The gravel patio area does a great job of combining tropicals into the landscape. I am envious of her weed-free gravel area. I am constantly weeding my gravel paths and would love to know her secret. The colors of the strawberry pot and succulent plants in it are reminiscent of the colors of the house.

Nice combination of foliage color and texture.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I was tempted to find myself a cocktail and sit on the patio for awhile. I remember reading about the snakes in the stone wall in her book. Good thing I didn’t see any.

But these squashes are kind of snake-like.

Her vegetable garden made me think of Mr. McGregor’s garden in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. I think it’s a combination of the gate, the metal watering can, and the raised beds that made me think that. And again, a cute little shed painted the same colors as the house.

 I like her simple trellising system.

Benches and chairs throughout the garden invite you sit and stay awhile.

The garden beds ebb and flow throughout the 2.3 acre property.

Gracefully cascading shrubs in various colors and textures.

I decided this is my favorite “view.” I could just sit here for hours. There was no chair here, though.

There is an organically-shaped, meadow-like area of un-mown grasses and wildflowers, like a giant welcome mat for the birds and insects of the garden. I love the tall Blue Spruce and how its symmetrical shape contrasts the carefree, flowing meadow grasses.

Some chairs are situated nearby and we sat for awhile, listening to the insects sing in the meadow. Clearly there is a living landscape going on in there, making for lots of happy little creatures. I almost felt like crawling around in there just to see what I might find, but I wouldn’t want to find a snake.

This naturalistic part of the property is very peaceful and serene.

This is indeed Margaret Roach’s little slice of heaven right here on earth. I can see why she found “some peace there.” She has created a beautiful, tranquil, welcoming place.

I think I like Margaret Roach so much because I can relate to her philosophies on gardening. I garden because I have to, not just because I want to – it is as much a part of me as the hair on my head. The more I garden, the more spiritually connected I feel to nature, as well as to the many little creatures I may find in the garden. The more birds and insects I see, the more I want to learn about them and find ways to invite them into the garden. Over the years I have come to realize that you don’t have to follow any set garden “rules,” because the garden is not there to please these garden rule-makers, it’s there to please me (and the many animals that make my garden their home).

Our gardens are a reflection of ourselves and I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the backyard world, through gardening. As Margaret says, “It is a life practice, a window into larger questions of existence.” Thank you, Margaret, for being an inspiration to other gardeners and for making us feel like we’re not just crazy people with trowels (although we may be).

To learn more about Margaret Roach, her books, her website, and her podcast: www.awaytogarden.com

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting Older, But Not Necessarily Wiser...and How a Gardener Spends Her Birthday

My birthday was on Saturday and I was kinda down in the dumps about this getting older thing. In July I had injured myself, yet again, working in the garden. Apparently I am getting older, but not wiser, as I continue to do more than I should. This time it was lifting 50 pound bags of gravel to finish the path through my flower garden (see my post about that). The time before that was when I spent about a year making my kitchen garden, with its raised beds and gravel paths (see the post for that, too). That first time, I had hurt my left elbow in three places and after a few rounds of physical therapy, ended up having surgery. This time it is my right shoulder and upper arm. Tendonitis and bursitis of the rotator cuff tendons and what my physical therapist likes to say, “a whole lot of soft tissue damage to the deltoid, bicep, and triceps areas” due to “overuse.” Overuse, you say? Isn’t that what all gardeners do? Or should I blame the yoga? Or both? Or just blame age? I still feel too young to have injuries due to “overuse,” but I guess I’m older than I care to admit. I’ve been going to physical therapy three times a week, while still going to yoga classes twice a week, and of course working full time, as well as overtime much of the time. It has been pretty exhausting. Plus, the web design classes that I take at night are starting up again next week. Where will I find the time for homework? Good thing I don’t have kids to keep track of, too.

So, needless to say, I have been kinda down and kinda stressed. My physical therapist said, “You gotta cut out this weekend warrior stuff and start spreading stuff out.” Weekend warrior. Never even thought of myself as that before, but boy, she has me pegged right. I seem to recall a recent weekend of patching and painting a ceiling, sanding and painting a back porch railing, and weeding. Then there was the weekend before that where I pruned the wisteria, both from the ladder and then from the roof, trimmed a bunch of overgrown stuff, weeded, helped Brian re-seal a section of flat roof, and helped Brian with replacing our rotting back porch steps with steps made of a composite material. But when else am I going to get anything done???

What does a gardener do when she shouldn’t be gardening? She visits other people’s gardens! It just so happened that one of my garden idol’s was opening her private garden in New York state to the public on my birthday, via the Garden Conservancy Open Days program. What a great excuse to take a weekend off from warrior-ing. I have been a fan of Margaret Roach’s podcast and website for about a year now and also just finished reading one of her books, And I Shall Have Some Peace There. A chance to see her garden on my birthday sounded ideal, so I planned a weekend vacation to see her garden, as well as do some other things. When I told my younger sister my birthday weekend plans, she called me a nerd. Well, yeh, I AM a garden nerd.

Margaret Roach’s Garden

We drove to New York state on Friday night so that we could be at Margaret Roach’s garden around when it opened. The drive out there was lovely, through rolling hillsides dotted with farms and vast cornfields and then a tiny town here and there. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where does one find good sushi in these here parts?” Margaret Roach has been a vegetarian for over 30 years, so she could probably care less about sushi.

I was really hoping Margaret Roach would be at the garden when we got there, and she was! I was so excited to meet her. She was a very kind hostess, greeting everyone and answering questions. I took lots of pictures of her garden and asked permission to post them on my blog. I will get them on here this coming weekend and will talk more about her garden. While we were there, we learned that Lynden Miller’s garden in Connecticut was also open that day. Lynden Miller is a well-known public garden designer and the director of The Conservatory Garden in Central Park, NY. I have seen some of her work in Fine Gardening magazine (my absolute favorite gardening magazine), as well as other places, and couldn’t resist visiting her private garden, as well.

(Side Trip to Hyde Park)

Lynden Miller’s was only about 20 minutes away from Margaret Roach’s garden, but wasn’t open until 2pm. We had plenty of time to kill, so we decided to zig on over to Hyde Park to see Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s birthplace and home, Springwood. Well, apparently due to the Ken Burns series on PBS, it was pretty crowded, but we did manage to do a tour of the house after having lunch at Hyde Park Brewing, conveniently located across the street. (Had to keep Brian happy while dragging him around gardens!)

Lynden Miller’s Garden

After a great tour of the Roosevelt house and some time spent in the Presidential Library and Museum, we zagged on over to Lynden Miller’s garden. What I love most about the work I’ve seen of hers is her amazing talent at garden borders. Her private garden certainly reflects that talent. She has such an eye for texture, color, bloom time, and more. I wish I had that eye, as well as that knowledge. Unfortunately, Lynden Miller was not there for us to meet. I was disappointed about that. We didn’t get there until about an hour before the garden was closing, so maybe she was there earlier and we had missed her. Her garden was truly lovely.

New York Botanical Garden

The next day the big thing on the agenda was the New York Botanical Garden. I had never been before and had always wanted to go. My excuse for going was the “Weird, Wild and Wonderful” botanical illustration exhibit. We also got to see The Haunted Pumpkin Garden in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, which was really cute. We spent about FIVE hours at the botanical garden and I think I wore Brian out. At least he had a chance to go to a couple of brewpubs after the garden – he needed a drink after all the walking we did! The garden is really amazing and I will definitely post about it soon.

“Weird, Wild and Wonderful” Botanical Illustration Exhibit (at NY Botanical Garden)

The “Weird, Wild and Wonderful” botanical illustration exhibit was really beautiful. Such talented artists. I love botanical illustration and dabble in it a bit myself from time to time – just don’t have the time to really focus on it, though. For this exhibit, The American Society of Botanical Artists invited artists to create works of art of “visually unusual plants.” They had 240 submissions and the jury selected 47 to be in the exhibit. Two of those selected submissions belong to the amazingly talented Asuka Hishiki. Her watercolor of an Heirloom Tomato takes on a life of its own and almost looks like a grotesque monster (or as she calls it on her website, the “Kind-hearted Monster”). She got the gold medal for her watercolor of Wasabi, with its mass of fibrous roots. If you’re not familiar with Asuka’s work, you must check out her website. She also creates works of art of mythical fungus caterpillars which are truly unique. An illustrator friend of mine calls her fungus caterpillars “gross,” but I find them absolutely fascinating. Other work of note at the “Weird, Wild and Wonderful” exhibit: Lucy Martin’s gouche and watercolor of Violet Hedgehog Mushroom with leaves and moss; Dolores R. Santoliquido’s very graphic acrylic, colored pencil, and graphite illustration of a Purple Pitcher Plant; Beverly Allen’s watercolor of White Bat Flower (silver medal winner); and Jeannetta vanRaalte’s watercolor of Romanesco Cauliflower, roots and all. All of the rest were fantastic as well, those were just my particular favorites.

It was a fantastic weekend full of great gardens and fabulous garden-related art. Look for future posts with more information and photos from my garden visits.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Kitchen Garden in August

Posting pictures of my garden at least a month late seems to be a reoccurring theme. August started out looking great, then things started to get a wild look...which seems the norm in my garden the end of August and in September.

The u-shaped beds provided a plethora of basil, sweet and Red Rubin. Also here, plenty of parsley, sorrel, garlic chives, swiss chard and nasturtium. 

Red Rubin is the first purple basil I have been able to grow successfully.

Strawberry Gomphrena adds a little burst of color by the green and purple basils.

I like the textures and colors of the ruffly parsley, the sweet basil, the dark purple Red Rubin basil and the silvery gray leaves of the Strawberry Fields Gomphrena together.

I love the flavor of the garlic chives, as well as the pretty white flowers, however...if you plant garlic chives, be prepared to have to weed little chive babies from everywhere, and I mean everywhere, around it. I try to cut the flower-heads as they start to dry and go to seed, but don’t always make it in time.

Admittedly, I plant Bright Lights Swiss Chard for the gorgeous color it provides. I do eat it sometimes, but most of the time it just stays there looking stunning.

See those red stems drawing your eye? That is the swiss chard.

The Alaska nasturtium has become my favorite nasturtium. It has done so well all year and is even more prolific and dense now than it is here.

 The hop vine started taking over the garden bench before I could trellis it.

One of my favorite additions to the kitchen garden this year has been the Cut and Come Again Zinnias that I had planted from seed. They add a cottage-garden feel to the beds. And look, there’s a hyacinth bean vine that reseeded from last year popping up to say hello. There is also more parsley here. I was never short on parsley all summer long.

 Look closely and you will see the bees like the zinnias, too.

The red and pink flowers are tall enough to be appreciated at eye-level.

Speaking of pinks, the pink Fireworks Gomphrena has done really well. It has flowered more than the Strawberry Fields variety.

The Mariachi Hot Peppers have not done nearly as well this year as last. Not sure why.

The yellow squash did really well for quite awhile, then it got powdery mildew, which happened last year as well. I tried using an organic spray, but it didn’t seem to help. At least I got a few good yellow squash before the plants kicked the bucket.

The Sunchocola cherry-sized tomatoes have provided a steady flow of tomatoes all season long. I wish they were a little sweeter, however, they do have a slightly smokey flavor which is kinda different.

Acorn squash! Last year I tried to grow it without success. This year I have two. I’ll take that over none!

The green beans weren’t as prolific this year. Might be because I used seed leftover from last year.

I have yet to see really good blackberries from this bush that I have had for several years. I know absolutely nothing about growing fruit, so maybe now it is time to learn. In the meantime, I get these little bitty fruits that the birds seem to like. At least they get to enjoy them!

My bed of greens was looking pretty sad in August. In September I planted some kale and lettuces to fill in.

My potted Solanum quitoense (naranjilla) has looked gorgeous, and dangerous, all season long. I absolutely love it. I have never grown it before, so I have no idea when to harvest the fruit. I am anxious to try it, though.

I don’t think I could ever live without fresh veggies and herbs from the garden now that I am so used to having them. There is nothing better. And it looks pretty, too.

Now I need to find time to post photos of the flower garden in August. Hopefully I can get around to that before October!